Can You Identify These Plants from Ancient Egypt?

Plants of all kinds were much beloved in ancient Egypt, and here is a selection  from tiles, tombs and wall inscriptions.  Can you identify them?  Over the next few days I will put up a blog giving their identity and function in the life and lore of the country.

Send suggestions, which I’ll not put up until the blog with ‘answers’ is put up.

The first four are from a wonderful Flickr site: Hans Ollermann’s photostream  :








Below, 5 through 8 are all the same plant:


Source:  Nos. 1 & 2, below, are the same plant.


6a  (top plant) & 6b (3 standing plants)

1- Plant in left upper corner. Source: Rock Tomb of Meir, Chapel B, No.2 (Blackman, 1915)2- Behind the statue, in containers.  Source: Koptos (Keimer, 1924a, p.142)

1- Plant in left upper corner. Source: Rock Tomb of Meir, Chapel B, No.2 (Blackman, 1915)
2- Plant that is behind the statue, in containers. Source: Koptos (Keimer, 1924a, p.142)                             1 and 2 are the same plant.

7. (two standing plants, lower register)

Tomb of Sennedjem.  Source:

Tomb of Sennedjem. Source:

8. (reproductions of the same plant)

These are examples of all of the same plant.  Source:

These are examples of all of the same plant. Source:

9. (tree)

 Tomb, Siwa Oasis, 400-600 BC. Source: unknown.

Tomb, Siwa Oasis, 400-600 BC. Source: unknown.

10. (tree)

Sennedjem tomb.  Source:

Sennedjem tomb. Source:

11. (two standing plants)

Tomb of Sennedjem.  Source:

Tomb of Sennedjem. Source: T

12. (Trees being put aboard the ship)

Budge, E. A. Wallace. The Nile Notes for Travellers in Egypt. (Harrison and Sons, London 1902). p. 408._TIMEA

Budge, E. A. Wallace. The Nile Notes for Travellers in Egypt. (Harrison and Sons, London 1902). p. 408._TIMEA

Have fun!

Posted in Agriculture, Agroforestry, Egypt-Ancient, Food, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Special Times at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika – Come Visit!!

The Hotel now has special rates for rooms during the weekends – it is a great savings from the regular rates, and you will have access to all of the features of the hotel:


Enter the hotel and check in:

ingresso 2


Arrange your baggage in your room:_ALF1268

And then, here are some of the features you can enjoy:

Go to the beach –


source: congo'

source: congo’

Or, you can enjoy the Pool – and perhaps find a bit of entertainment:



You can relax at one of outdoor snack bars and enjoy a piza from Chef Claude:


enjoyburundi'infoOr, you can go to main restaurant where you will find wonderful breakfast buffets and à la carte service:


 grillade_ALF1577           Or, you could always do a bit of working-out:


If you are more adventurous, join one of the many jogging groups that jog from Bujumbura to the Congo border and back:

photo14Another possibility, is to go down towards the Congo border, by vehicle, and visit the wonderful Rusizi Wetlands:

Rusizi-National-Park-Burundi enjoyburundi'info

Be sure not to miss the display in the hotel of paintings by the Kenyan Artist in Residence Robert Omundi:


For more of Robert’s art displayed at the hotel, see here.

If Eng. Alfredo, owner-manager of the hotel is about, he’ll be happy for a visit:


Then, you might be ready for a relaxing aperitif by the pool:


And a last stroll by the lake before turning in, admiring the hills of Congo across Lake Tanganyika:



   image-17                    For more on the hotel: This site will give you more information.

Posted in Burundi, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Lake Tanganyika, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Visit to the Holy Land by Ida Pfeiffer in 1842


Ida Pfeiffer was one of the most intrepid of Victorian travellers.  In the early to mid part of the 19th century she travelled not only to the Middle East, but also to other areas of the globe.  This entry is about her time spent in Egypt. 

The following entry is from her Vienna publisher.  It is a small masterpiece of Victorian rhetoric:

… In her earliest youth she earnestly desired to perform this journey [to the holy land] …

It was not, however, until our Authoress had reached a riper age, and had finished the education of her sons, that she succeeded in carrying into effect the ardent aspiration of her youth.

On the 2d of March, 1842, she commenced her journey alone, without companions, but fully prepared to bear every ill, to bid defiance to every danger, and to combat every difficulty.  That this undertaking should have succeeded may almost be looked upon as a wonder.

Far from desiring publicity, she merely kept a diary, in order to retain the recollections of her tour during her later life, and to impart to her nearest relatives the story of her fortunes.  Every evening, though often greatly exhausted with heat, thirst, and the hardships of travel, she never failed to make notes in pencil of the occurrences of the day, frequently using a sand-mound or the back of a camel as a table, while the other members of the caravan lay stretched around her, completely tired out…

After much trouble I succeeded in persuading the Authoress to allow her journal to appear in print.

My efforts were called forth by the desire to furnish the reading public, and particularly the female portion, with a very interesting and attractive, and at the same time a strictly authentic picture of the Holy Land, and of Madame Pfeiffer’s entire journey.

Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

After arriving from Beirut to Alexandria, she took a small, local boat to Cairo, and here are some of her observations:

I would counsel any one who can only make this journey to Cairo once in his lifetime to do it at the end of August or the beginning of September.  A more lovely picture, and one more peculiar in its character, can scarcely be imagined.  In many places the plain is covered as far as the eye can trace by the Nile-sea (it can scarcely be called river in its immense expanse), and every where little islands are seen rising from the waters, covered with villages surrounded by date-palms, and other trees, while in the background the high-masted boats, with their pyramidal sails, are gliding to and fro…

Delta village.  The boat in which she traveled up to Cairo from Alexandria would have been similar to this.  Source: Picturesque Egypt by Ebers.

Delta village. The boat in which she traveled up to Cairo from Alexandria would have been similar to this. Source: Picturesque Egypt by Ebers.

this Nile-water is not at all prejudicial to health; on the contrary, the inhabitants of the valley assert that they possess the best and wholesomest water in the world.  The Franks are accustomed, as I have already stated, to take filtered water with them.  When the supply becomes exhausted, they have only to put a few kernels of apricots or almonds chopped small into a vessel of Nile-water to render it tolerably clear within the space of five or six hours.  I learnt this art from an Arab woman during my voyage on the Nile…

When we landed at a village, the inhabitants would inquire by signs if I wished for any thing.  I wanted some milk, eggs, and bread, but did not know how to ask for them in Arabic.  I therefore had recourse to drawing; for instance, I made a portrait of a cow, gave an Arab woman a bottle and some money, and made signs to her to milk her cow and to fill my bottle.  In the same way I drew a hen, and some eggs beside her; pointed to the hen with a shake of my head, and then to the eggs with a nod, counting on the woman’s fingers how many she was to bring me.  In this way I could always manage to get on, by limiting my wants to such objects as I could represent by drawings…

[On arriving at Cairo] … I became involved in a dispute with the captain of the vessel.  I had still to pay him three dollars and a half, and gave him four dollars, in the expectation that he would return me my change.  This, however, he refused to do, and persisted in keeping the half-dollar.  He said it should be divided as backsheesh among the crew; but I am sure they would have seen nothing of it.  Luckily, however, he was stupid enough not to put the money in his pocket, but kept it open in his hand.  I quickly snatched a coin from him, and put it into my pocket, explaining to him at the same time that he should not have it back until he had given me my change, adding that I would give the men a gratuity myself…

A country estate on the outskirts of Cairo.  Source: Ebers-Picturesque Egypt

A country estate on the outskirts of Cairo. Source: Ebers-Picturesque Egypt

A ride of three quarters of an hour in a very broad handsome street, planted with a double row of a kind of acacia altogether strange to me, among a crowd of men, camels, asses, etc., brought me to the town, the streets of which are in general narrow.  There is so much noise and crowding every where, that one would suppose a tumult had broken out.  But as I approached, the immense mass always opened as if by magic, and I pursued my way without hindrance to the consulate, which lies hidden in a little narrow blind alley…

A street in old Cairo, about the time she would have been visiting.

A street in old Cairo, about the time she would have been visiting.


At four in the afternoon I quitted Cairo, crossed two arms of the Nile, and a couple of hours afterwards arrived safely at Gizeh.  As the Nile had overflowed several parts of the country, we were compelled frequently to turn out of our way, and sometimes to cross canals and ride through water; now and then, where it was too deep for our asses, we were obliged to be carried across.  As there is no inn at Gizeh I betook myself to Herr Klinger, to whom I brought a letter of recommendation from Cairo…

After chatting away the evening very pleasantly I sought my couch, tired with my ride and with the heat, and rejoicing at the sight of the soft divan, which seemed to smile upon me, and promise rest and strength for the following day.  But as I was about to take possession of my couch, I noticed on the wall a great number of black spots.  I took the candle to examine what it could be, and nearly dropped the light with horror on discovering that the wall was covered with bugs.  I had never seen such a disgusting sight.  All hopes of rest on the divan were now effectually put to flight.  I sat down on a chair, and waited until every thing was perfectly still; then I slipped into the entrance-hall, and lay down on the stones, wrapped in my cloak…

Before daybreak I took leave of my kind host, and rode with my servant towards the gigantic structures.  To-day we were again obliged frequently to go out of our route on account of the rising of the Nile; owing to this delay, two hours elapsed before we reached the broad arm of the Nile, dividing us from the Libyan desert, on which the Pyramids stand, and over which two Arabs carried me.  This was one of the most disagreeable things that can be imagined.  Two large powerful men stood side by side; I mounted on their shoulders, and held fast by their heads, while they supported my feet in a horizontal position above the waters, which at some places reached almost to their armpits, so that I feared every moment that I should sit in the water.  Besides this, my supporters continually swayed to and fro, because they could only withstand the force of the current by a great exertion of strength, and I was apprehensive of falling off.  This disagreeable passage lasted above a quarter of an hour.  After wading for another fifteen minutes through deep sand, we arrived at the goal of our little journey…

To the pyramids.  Source: Manning - Excursion aux pyramides

To the pyramids. Source: Manning – Excursion aux pyramides

As it was still early in the day and not very hot, I preferred ascending the pyramid before venturing into its interior.  My servant took off my rings and concealed them carefully, telling me that this was a very necessary precaution, as the fellows who take the travellers by the hands to assist them in mounting the pyramids have such a dexterous knack of drawing the rings from their fingers, that they seldom perceive their loss until too late.

I took two Arabs with me, who gave me their hands, and pulled me up the very large stones. 


Source: Ebers-Picturesque Egypt

Any one who is at all subject to dizziness would do very wrong in attempting this feat, for he might be lost without remedy.  Let the reader picture to himself a height of 500 feet, without a railing or a regular staircase by which to make the ascent.  At one angle only the immense blocks of stone have been hewn in such a manner that they form a flight of steps, but a very inconvenient one, as many of these stone blocks are above four feet in height, and offer no projection on which you can place your foot in mounting.  The two Arabs ascended first, and then stretched out their hands to pull me from one block to another.  I preferred climbing over the smaller blocks without assistance.  In three quarters of an hour’s time I had gained the summit of the pyramid.

For a long time I stood lost in thought, and could hardly realise the fact that I was really one of the favoured few who are happy enough to be able to contemplate the most stupendous and imperishable monument ever erected by human hands…

Vitaly Raskalov's Great Pyramid Climb

Vitaly Raskalov’s Great Pyramid Climb

But now the time came not only to look down, but to descend.  Most people find this even more difficult than the ascent; but with me the contrary was the case.  I never grow giddy, and so I advanced in the following manner, without the aid of the Arabs.  On the smaller blocks I sprang from one to the other; when a stone of three or four feet in height was to be encountered, I let myself glide gently down; and I accomplished my descent with so much grace and agility, that I reached the base of the pyramid long before my servant.  Even the Arabs expressed their pleasure at my fearlessness on this dangerous passage…

After walking about and inspecting every thing, I commenced my journey back.  On the way I once more visited Herr Klinger, strengthened myself with a hearty meal, and arrived safely at Cairo late in the evening…

 …  I saw many streets where there can hardly have been room for a horseman to pass.  The road to the Armenian church leads through such narrow lanes and gates, that we were compelled to leave our asses behind; there was hardly room for two people to pass each other.

On the other hand, I had nowhere seen a more spacious square than the Esbekie-place in Cairo…

Coptic Houses in Esbekyeh Square, Cairo, by W. Hammerschmidt, c. 1860-1863.  Source:

Coptic Houses in Esbekyeh Square, Cairo, by W. Hammerschmidt, c. 1860-1863. Source:


It had originally been my intention to stay at Cairo a week at the furthest, and afterwards to return to Alexandria.  But the more I saw, the more my curiosity became excited, and I felt irresistibly impelled to proceed.  I had now travelled in almost every way, but I had not yet tried an excursion on a camel.  I therefore made inquiry as to the distance, danger, and expense of a journey to Suez on the Red Sea.  The distance was a thirty-six hours’ journey, the danger was said to be nil, and the expense they estimated at about 250 piastres.

I therefore hired two strong camels, one for me, the other for my servant and the camel-driver, and took nothing with me in the way of provisions but bread, dates, a piece of roast meat, and hardboiled eggs.  Skins of water were hung at each side of the camels, for we had to take a supply which would last us the journey and during our return…

For the first four or five hours I was not ill-pleased with this mode of travelling.  I had plenty of room on my camel, and could sit farther back or forward as I chose, and had provisions and a bottle of water at my side.  Besides this, the heat was not oppressive; I felt very comfortable, and could look down from my high throne almost with a feeling of pride upon the passing caravans.  Even the swaying motion of the camel, which causes in some travellers a feeling of sickness and nausea like that produced by a sea-voyage, did not affect me…

Source: Pfeiffer: A visit to the holyland.

Source: Pfeiffer: A visit to the holy land.

Ida Pfeiffer returned to Cairo, thence to Europe with no mishaps – and prepared to set off on other, equally interesting voyages around the world.

During her travels Ida Pfeiffer collected plants, insects, molluscs, marine life and mineral specimens. The carefully documented specimens were sold to the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna and Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin…

“She was a member of geographical societies of both Berlin and Paris, but not of Royal Geographical Society in London due to her sex.”   – Wikipedia

Based on her specimens, she co-authored at least one scientific article:

Pfeiffer, Wallace, Allen and Smith: “The discovery of the Hymenoptera of the Malay Archipelago,” Archives of Natural History 23:153-200 ISSN 0260-9541.

With an insect net.  Lithograph by Dauthag.  Source: Wikipedia

With an insect net. Lithograph by Dauthag. Source: Wikipedia


Posted in Colonialism, Egypt-Recent | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Locusts and Hyenas: The Red Sea Hills of Eastern Egypt & Sudan

Following on the recent swarms of Locusts in Egypt and Israel, here is an update of a blog on the topic (and on hyenas):

Previous blogs on work in the Red Sea Hills are found here and here.

The area of work was in the green, with some overlapping into N.E. Sudan. Source: unknown.

During the time that I ran a project in the Red Sea Hills of southeast Egypt, in the early 1980’s, Locusts and hyenas became topics of study and discussion. Here is why:

Locusts – because we collaborated with the Egyptian Locust Control Authority, which maintained a base camp and single engine planes for scouting.  We shared camping grounds with the staff, and also benefitted from accompanying flights to survey possible locusts and locust swarms,  which also allowed for low altitude surveys of wildlife and Beja camps throughout the area of southern Egypt – northern Sudan.

The best up-to-date information on locusts in Africa is provided by FAO’s Desert Locust Briefs site:

4 Jan. 2012, swarms-bands persist on red sea coast.  Source: FAO

4 Jan. 2013, swarms-bands persist on red sea coast.   Our project area was located between the Egypt and Sudan border, where there are numerous groupings of Locusts.  Source: FAO- Desert Locust Briefs

The Desert Locust situation remains serious in the winter breeding areas along both sides of the Red Sea. During January, ground and aerial control operations continue against hoppers bands and a few swarms in northeast Sudan (15,600 ha) and on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia (3,500 ha). Ground control operations are in progress against similar infestations in southeast Egypt (3,100 ha). Another generation of breeding will occur in the three countries, causing locust numbers to increase further. Recently, a few swarms were seen laying eggs on the coastal plains near the Sudan/Eritrea border. All efforts are required to monitor the situation carefully and undertake the necessary control operations.  Source:  FAO Desert Locust Briefs

Source: FAO Desert Locust Briefs

24 January (above): The Desert Locust situation remains serious in the winter breeding areas along both sides of the Red Sea. During January, ground and aerial control operations continue against hoppers bands and a few swarms in northeast Sudan (15,600 ha) and on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia (3,500 ha). Ground control operations are in progress against similar infestations in southeast Egypt (3,100 ha). Another generation of breeding will occur in the three countries, causing locust numbers to increase further. Recently, a few swarms were seen laying eggs on the coastal plains near the Sudan/Eritrea border. All efforts are required to monitor the situation carefully and undertake the necessary control operations.

Source.  FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

Source. FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

On 2 March (above), at least one immature swarm appeared in the afternoon in the eastern Cairo districts of New Cairo and Mokattam and dispersed into several smaller swarmlets. The locusts originated from breeding that has been in progress since November in southeast Egypt between Berenice and the Sudanese border. As vegetation dried out, small groups and swarms of immature adults moved slowly north along the Red Sea coast, reaching Marsa Alam on 8 February, Hurghada on the 16th and Zafarana on the 26th. From there, a few moved to Cairo yesterday.

The locusts reached Cairo by flying on warm southerly and southeasterly winds associated with a low pressure system over the central Mediterranean. As this system moves further east in the coming days, the winds will shift and come from the west and then from the north by 5 March. As locusts fly with the wind, this will allow them to move towards northeast Egypt, the Sinai and, perhaps, Israel and southwest Jordan today and tomorrow. Therefore, it is unlikely that more locusts will appear in Cairo, and the threat to the Sinai, Israel and Jordan should decline after Monday.

National locust teams in Egypt undertook control operations in east Cairo yesterday evening. Survey and control operations continue in all infested areas of the country. Israel, Lebanon and Jordan have been alerted.

Source.:FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

Source.:FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

5 March (above): Remnants of several small immature Desert Locust swarms that appeared in Cairo, Egypt on 2 March were seen the following day near the international airport on the eastern edge of the city. Several small immature swarms moved to the northern Sinai Peninsula where they were seen on the northern coast near Bir El Abd and El Arish on 4 March. On the same day, locals reported seeing locusts south of El Arish near Jebel Halal, and at least one small swarm crossed the nearby border into the northern Negev Desert of Israel where it was seen in the Nitzana area near Be’er Milka. Control operations were undertaken immediately in both countries, and no damage to crops was reported.

Locust teams in both countries are checking all areas for any further infestations. There is a risk that a few more locusts from the Sinai will arrive in the Negev today on northwesterly winds, and some could reach adjacent areas of the Aqaba Valley in Jordan. From tomorrow onwards, the possibility of additional locust groups and small swarms moving into Israel and Jordan will decline considerably as the winds shift and come from the north and northeast.

FAO will continue to keep all affected countries informed on a regular and timely basis.

Source: FAO-Desert Locust briefs

Source: FAO-Desert Locust briefs

12 March (above): The Desert Locust situation continues to remain serious along both sides of the Red Sea. In the past few days, more groups and small swarms have moved from the breeding areas on the coast into the interior of Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. More locusts have also arrived in Israel and Eritrea. Survey and control operations are underway in all countries. Additional movements are expected during the remainder of March and countries should remain on alert.EGYPT. Vegetation is drying out on the Red Sea coast and subcoastal areas except in the El Shazly and Abraaq areas where a second generation of egg-laying is underway. In the past few days, more groups of immature and mature adults appeared from the coast in Upper Egypt along Lake Nasser and the Nile between Abu Simbel and Kom Ombo. During periods of warm southerly winds, more immature adult groups moved north along the Red Sea coast to Suez and the northern Sinai between Ismailia and El Arish. Similar infestations are likely to be present in the central Sinai where many areas are inaccessible. Ground teams treated nearly 7,000 ha so far in March, and 40,000 ha during the campaign. There is a risk of small groups and swarms arriving in the northeast during periods of warm southerly winds.

ISRAEL. Another wave of immature adults and small groups occurred from the Sinai on 10 March, reaching many coastal areas and the northern Negev Desert. No significant damage has occurred. Ground and aerial control operations treated nearly 2,000 ha so far in March. There is a risk of small groups and swarms arriving during periods of warm southerly and southwesterly winds.

PALESTINE. Small groups of immature adults have been reported in a few places in Gaza, most recently on 10 March. Many of the groups are moving back and forth across the Egypt/Israel border.

Source: FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

Source: FAO-Desert Locust Briefs

20 March (above): No further swarms have been reported recently along the Nile River in northern Sudan but substantial egg laying is thought to have occurred over a considerable distance of some 1,000 km near crops, stretching from Wadi Halfa to Atbara. Hatching began last week and hoppers are forming small but dense patches and bands. Hatching will continue for at least another week and more bands will form. In the northeast, the situation improved and few locusts remain on the Red Sea coast and near the Egypt border. On the southern coast, control operations continue against infestations near the Eritrea border.

In Egypt, locust infestations declined on the southeast coast of the Red Sea near the Sudan border due to control operations and drying conditions. On the other hand, groups of adults continue to be reported further inland near Lake Nasser, in the Red Sea Hills, east of Cairo, and in the northern Sinai Peninsula.

In Saudi Arabia, control operations continue against hopper groups, bands and adult groups on the Red Sea coastal plains mainly north of Jeddah and, to a lesser extent, to the south near Lith. Some adult groups moved further north along the coast.

In Israel, ground and aerial control operations continue against adults that are maturing and started to lay eggs in the northern Negev Desert.

For ongoing reports on the locust situation, follow FAO’s web page, which contains the above (and ongoing) maps.

As for hyenas – we were interested in them because early on in our work we were surprised to come across a small party of (3) hunters who had tracked and killed several fully grown striped hyenas, whose cadavers  accompanied them (for skinning and-or stuffing in Cairo).  Striped hyenas are quite rare in the project area and, since one major goal of our work was to scout and  dart wildlife for drawing blood and taking parasite samples, it was considered a priority to find other hyenas for purposes of darting.  Especially important, because hyenas eat carrion (as well as hunt for their meals) and thus might be a reservoir of diseases.

Hyenas of Egypt are ‘Striped Hyenas‘ – they are smaller than the Spotted Hyenas that are found further south in sub-Saharan Africa:

A striped hyena in east Africa.

Spotted Hyenas, found in West, East and Southern Africa, are larger.  Both are, according to IUCN, endangered.

Hyena and pup, east Africa.  Source: Dr. Kay Holekamp, MSU.

Spotted hyena and pup, east Africa. Source: Dr. Kay Holekamp, MSU.

To be continued…

Posted in Africa-East, Africa-General, Africa-North, Africa-Southern, Egypt Desert Locust Authority, Egypt-Ancient, Egypt-Recent, Sudan, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Contract Farming in the Village: Farmer-Friendly Strategies

I have received several emails asking about the contract farming project in the village, which has been organized with the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika.  We are hoping to invigorate the activity during this rainy season – before the rains are finished.

By way of reminding you all about the project, here is a posting sent at the initiation of the activity, about two years ago.  Dynamics remain the same for every new season:

Our contract farming scheme in the nearby village, which is being implemented with village smallholders in conjunction with the Hotel Lac Tanganyika, is progressing slowly – but with great enthusiasm. Slowly, for several reasons: 

1, The need to verify seed viability before they are widely distributed The Imbo plains along Lake Tanganyika are sandy and relatively impoverished, and even though we are heavily manuring the test plots (with goat manure), the germination and growth of the seeds must be assessed. This is especially important because the majority of seeds have come from Kenya, Italy of the U.S. And seeds purchased locally often do not germinate. 

2. Small holders here are very cautious about investing in a new enterprise. Land and labor are the major issues: Land is scarce, and most smallholders do not own land but must rent it. And the cash outlay is, for most, difficult to come by. Labor is not only an issue with regard to planting and maintaining the crop, but also preparation of the land itself. And with a technology consisting only of hoe agriculture, this can be considerable: Therefore we want to be sure of introducing viable products. 

Clearing land is often a joint enterprise

Easier in this area to clear the land, but still considerable work for a widow with only young children

3. The vegetables are to be organically raised – no chemical insecticides. I therefore have been experimenting with a variety of organic insecticides, with the goal of identifying a product that is easy to make, cheap (using readily available products), and one that lasts one or two weeks. 

After some trials, I think we have a product that meets these criteria. Red (hot) peppers (or chili powder) boiled about half an hour with onion and garlic added. It is easy to make, kills the bugs, and lasts about two weeks. Red  peppers are very common, and the product will also work without the onion and garlic (which are a bit pricy). 

4. Suitable transfer of technology: On problem with many contract farming schemes is that the introduced technologies – whether planting materials, marketing structures, or other – are not sustainable outside of the project. We are trying to introduce technologies that will work in the local farming system and that will continue well into the future, and that can be taken up by other smallholders, and also whose products can be marketed successfully in Bujumbura – the nearest large market town. 

A feature of the horticultural crop production in our area is that it is restricted almost solely to one variety of lenga-lenga (amaranth). Introducing a variety of crops that can be equally well-grown – using biological insecticides as necessary – can help to enhance local household incomes. Local farmers know this, and so are watching our results carefully. 

Hindy, 100% African dog - beside the hand-dug well that is used for watering.  The water table is quite close to the surface here and this allows farmers to dig wells with relative ease.

Hindy, 100% African dog – beside the hand-dug well that is used for watering. The water table is quite close to the surface here and this allows farmers to dig wells with relative ease.


We now have trial plots in which a few of all of the vegetables are being planted and treated, and which we are using not only for demonstration, but also for systematic training of farmers joining the program. 

Trial plots growing next to rice, with hills of the Congo in the background.  Seedlings from the trial plots are now ready to be outplanted.

Trial plots growing next to rice, with hills of the Congo in the background. Seedlings from the trial plots are now ready to be outplanted.

This morning we evaluated the outplanting of cabbages, corn and green beans (companion planting), (etc)and the subsequent impact of our new organic pesticide mixture on them. 

These are looking good. However, a variety of seeds of other vegetables are not sprouting – or are not sprouting well, which could be either a result of seed viability or problems with the local environment. I will be getting some other seeds from here and from Kenya, to put in further trials. 

Trial Plots, looking the opposite direction – towards the village.

On the left, cabbage  has already been outplanted with maize as a companion plant. On the right, green beans and maize as companion plants.  The two palms in the background are oil palms, some of the last remaining of a very large ‘plantation’ of oil palms that grew here over ten years ago.

Tomorrow morning several farmers will be coming to sign contracts, and receive seeds. We are beginning with amaranth, radishes, and several other types tfrom the trials that are growing well.

Posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, Contract-Farming, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2 | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Agriculture; Livestock; Indigenous Plants; Agroforestry – Links

Transects of 2 smallholder farms developed with farmers and technical staff during a training course in Ruyigi Provence, eastern Burundi on farmer-research-extension linkages.

Transects of two smallholder farms developed by farmers and technical staff during a training course in Ruyigi Provence, eastern Burundi on farmer-research-extension linkages. All farms contained indigenous trees that were retained for their products.  Part of the training included participant teams working with ‘their’ farmers in collecting portions of the trees or plants used, and their use and status of the trees.

FAO will be convening an International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition, that aims to:

… increase understanding of the crucial role that forests, trees on farms and agroforestry systems can play in improving the food security and nutrition of rural people, especially in developing countries. It will propose ways to integrate this knowledge in policy decisions at the national and international levels (13-15 May 2013).

Preparation for the conference includes an interactive Learning event on agroforestry, food security and climate change:

We welcome those interested in agroforestry and climate change mitigation to participate in an online learning event organized in the Community of practice for climate change mitigation in agriculture. The event is organized jointly by the MICCA Programme and the Agroforestry Programme of FAO’s Forestry Department in collaboration with key agroforestry partners, including the

By way of providing background information to participants and other interest persons, here follows links to past blogs that relate to agriculture, livestock, agroforestry, indigenous plants, and related topics.  These blogs are directed to the general public as ways of opening knowledge that is often not well-known, and are based on my own field work and research in Africa and the Middle East.

An Upcountry Training in Semi-savannah Crop-Livestock-Tree Dynamics

Livestock Restocking in Burundi: More Complicated than ‘The Gift of a Goat’

Dreams of Agroforestry in the Highlands of East Africa

Multipurpose Crops in Africa & Dates in the Sahara, 1859

Medicinal & Indigenous Plants

 Changing Paradigms in African Agriculture: Learning from the Locals

Eating Weeds and Insects

More on Eating ‘Weeds,’ Insects, and Creepy-Crawlies

Colonial Musings on Mount Cameroon: Out with the Plantains! In with the Coffee & Sugar!

Wild Mango Relish from West Africa, 1873

 More about Wild Mango Relish from West Africa

West African Cuisine and Hunger Crops, 1800s

Shea Butter in the 18th Century, Better than English Butter according to Mungo Park

More about Vegetable Butter in West and East Africa

 Sorghum ‘Stew’, Dry Land Bamboo – & Spatial Analysis in the Gum Arabic Belt of Sudan

Thanksgiving – and A Military Coup – in Sudan

Wild Coffee and other Indigenous Species in Central Africa

Coffee Culture in Africa – an Historical Peek

Sir Burton Expounds on Coffee, Preserving Meat, and Local Bread in East Africa, 1860

Recent Botanical Studies on Plant Materials from Ancient Egypt

Ebony & Other Modern Words that Survive from Ancient Egypt – What, How and Why

Blogs currently under preparation – check back!

  • Bamboo in Central Africa
  • Oil Palms in Burundi
  • Date palms in the Nile Valley and Sahel
  • Dom palms in the Nile Valley
  • Coconut palms along Lake Tanganyika
  • Olive trees in the Nile Valley
International Year of Forests

International Year of Forests (Photo credit: Sepehr Ehsani)

Posted in Agriculture, Agroforestry, Burundi, Colonialism, Egypt - Medieval, Food, Food Security, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Social Life of Beans in Burundi – Part 2

Part 1 of this blog discussed the different steps used by smallholders here in Burundi in cultivating, harvesting and processing beans.  Below, a few more notes on these steps – together with thoughts on the challenges of emergency seed distribution following war and other disasters, and pictures of cooking and serving, followed by a traditional recipe – sombé:  manioc leaves and goat meat in a hot sauce, that is customarily served with rice and beans.

Down where we are on the Imbo - the sandy flatlands along Lake Tanganyika - soils fairly uniform.  Here, a landless farmer has planted beans and maize in a spare plot close to us.

Down where we are on the Imbo – the sandy flatlands along Lake Tanganyika – soils are fairly uniform and lacking in fertility in areas of very high sand. Here, a landless farmer has just planted beans and maize in a spare plot close to us.  The little mound of soil on the right is where he has dug a temporary shallow well.

Beating the Beans:

Part 1 of the blog mentioned a little video of bean processing that I couldn’t find.  Here it is:

Bukuru Beating the Beans – And here is an explanation:

One of the steps that is sometimes used in processing beans after harvests consists of energetically beating the bean vines in order to remove any beans that may remain on the vines.  The video [above] shows Bukuru, one of the farm workers who was with us for a while during the years of fighting and rebel rebellions here in Burundi, working both with the crops and – he one day disappeared and we later heard that he had joined a rebel group.  Neither we nor his family have ever seen him since.

Seeds – origins, micro-environments, and emergency distributions:

As many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Burundi’s farm lands are often characterized by micro-environmental niches that can be associated not only with particular types of crops, but also with particular varieties of seeds or planting materials.  These niches can be so small as to be easily missed, and thus walking transects and characterizing each area can be the best way to site out a particular area.  One transect is shown in Part 1 of this blog.  Details of each (micro) ecosystem can be detailed.

After the major fighting ended and humanitarian organizations began to work both with the government and with local groups (about 2004-5), the provisioning of seeds became a critical component of this programming.  We were involved in distribution of seeds (primarily beans), in conjunction with the Emergency Coordination Unit of the Burundi FAO office.  This was the challenge:  initially, FAO contracted with local and regional suppliers to purchase and bring in seeds for redistribution, which we implemented to our program areas.  However, and in spite of attempts by FAO to assure quality seeds, not only was the quality of enormous variation and often old, moldy, or otherwise unsuitable, but we just had no idea where the beans were from.

Hence, in distributions, farmers would receive X amount of seeds with no chance either to inspect them, or to learn about their origin.  This resulted in continued problems of bad or inappropriate seeds, to the unhappiness and consternation of our farmers – but, not surprisingly, to happily financed seed suppliers.

Another problem was related to distribution.  We worked with local colline leaders, who were to select farmers receiving the seeds.  The ongoing difficulties related to who was selected or neglected, and resulting debates (or worse), often led to the need for ongoing dispute management.  This problem was gradually eased, although the issue of seed origin and quality was almost impossible to control.

Ultimately, in conjunction with several NGOs, FAO introduced a program of seed fairs and seed vouchers, which were to allow different types of seeds to be selected by producers while seed merchants also benefitted from these sales:

The use of vouchers in emergencies to provide resources to those affected by disaster has become increasingly popular since 2000, particularly for the provision of seed and other agricultural inputs.

Voucher-based programmes are thought to have various advantages over the direct distribution of seed and agricultural inputs: they are said to be straightforward, timely and cost-efficient in terms of implementation, to provide farmers with a choice of planting materials, to strengthen farmer seed systems and local markets, to offer an opportunity for farmers to test modern varieties, and to empower local communities…

Langley-Seed vouchers in emergency programming…, ODI

Experiences and lessons learned in Burundi and elsewhere with seed fairs and seed voucher programs were incorporated into operational procedures of the Emergency Coordination Unit of FAO-Rome.  These programs can help to transcend the problems mentioned above during and after emergencies, and in the meantime – over the past five years or so – seed multiplication at both national and local levels have been major concerns as the country recovers from war, destruction, and unrest.

Beating the Bugs:

Insects … the bane of farmers… Especially as after years of war and displacement,  knowledge of best seeds for specific ecosystems and their associated insect tribes has often been disrupted.  But beyond insecticides, (rarely used except for government-supported commercial crops), there are some very clever indigenous methods of beating the bugs.  The most clever, cost-effective, labor-saving – and successful is one I came about by accident.

Going by an outdoor shelf of one of our producers, I saw a series of little bundles of ‘somethings’ carefully wrapped in clinging paper.  The farmer took one of the packets off of  the shelf and opening it, examined the bundle of nearly-sprouted bean seeds therein.  This, it was explained to me, was quite an effective way to out-race the insects: give the seeds a running start by beginning to sprout them in little bundles wrapped in paper or another fabric that could be kept damp.  Once well-sprouted, the seeds are planted and – voila! – by pushing above and within the soil faster than ‘normal’, they can (at least partly) outwit the bugs wanting to munch on them under the soil.  Also, I was informed, this helps if the rains are a bit iffy.

Eating Sombé (manioc leaves) – with beans and all the trimmings:

Eliane, pounding sombé leaves prior to their being cooked.  Behind her is the normal type of charcoal cooker.

Eliane, pounding sombé leaves prior to their being cooked. Behind her is the normal type of charcoal cooker.

Here is a recipe for Sombé – Manioc Leaves & Goat Meat in a Hot Sauce, served with Rice and Beans I originally published the recipe on our ‘burundi goats’ website,  and it was later picked up by a culinary blogspot, here.

(found in Burundi; Rwanda; Eastern Congo)

Manioc – known also as cassava or yucca – originated in South America – probably Brazil – and due to its exceptionally hardy nature and ability to grow in poor soils and with little care, spread throughout the tropics and eventually on to the South Pacific – and then to all of tropical Africa. Both the tubers and leaves are eaten.

Sombé, the dish explained here, is popular in central Africa. It contains the young, green leaves of manioc (cassava; yucca). The leaves have high amounts of Vitamins A and C; ½ a cup of cooked sombé provides half of the daily Vitamin A requirements of a young child. Manioc leaves also contain iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium – all very important minerals in central Africa because very little meat is eaten.

The tubers of manioc are also an important source of carbohydrates and moderate protein and are the 3rd most important staple food in Burundi, after bananas and sweet potatoes. Recipes for manioc tubers are found elsewhere on the page.

After cleaning, the coarse leaves are either chopped fine or – as here in Burundi – are pounded in a large, wooden mortar with a long pestle.

The following recipe for sombé is a bit time-consuming and elaborate, and is therefore usually made for a celebration.


  • 1 kg Young [less than 2 months] manioc leaves (can use mustard or another coarse green), coarsely chopped
  • ½ kg goat meat, bone-in and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 lg onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 green pepper, coarsely chopped
  • ½ kg intoré (indigenous eggplants), coarsely chopped – or use ‘domestic’ eggplants
  • 1 leek, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 red (hot) peppers – whole
  • ½ c finely ground dry peanuts – skins off
  • 3 T palm oil
  • salt & pepper, to taste


  • •Clean manioc leaves & remove from stocks
  • •Pound manioc leaves, leek & onion in a mortar until completely broken down [can use a food processor]
  • •Put in a large casserole & cover with water
  • •Cook about 40 minutes
  • •Add meat, oil, eggplant pieces, green pepper & red (hot) pepper
  • •Add more water to cover, if necessary
  • •Continue cooking about 1 hour or until meat is tender
  • •Add ground peanuts
  • •Cook for 2 minutes only
  • •Add salt and pepper to taste

To Serve:

Rice, manioc pate, beans cooked in a tomato sauce, and hot sauce are common accompaniments; fried plantains and fried manioc may be prepared as side dishes. The traditional method of serving and eating is as follows:

  • •Mound rice or manioc pate on a very large tray
  • •Mound a bean-tomato sauce mixture on top of the rice
  • •Put little mounds of sombé greens around this
  • •Place meat chunks all around
  • •Pour sauce from the casserole over the top
  • •Place tray in the middle of a table
  • •Invite guests to sit, giving each a large spoon
  • •Guests eat out of the common dish, selecting what they wish
  • •Have a large bowl of clean water beside, for people to wash their hands as necessary

Follow the meal with millet beer, banana beer or banana wine and fruit.

Eric (right) and a cousin chowing-in, with a daily favorite - rice with stewed beans, which I think were mixed with lenga-lenga (amaranth greens).  No not poverty stirken youth, but fresh from working in the field.  Eric attends university but also works on the family farm in the village.

Eric (left) and relatives, chowing-in, with a daily favorite – rice with stewed beans, which I think were mixed with lenga-lenga (amaranth greens). No not ‘poverty-striken’ youth, but fresh from working in the field. Eric attends university but also works on the family farm in the village.

Beans at the Beach:

Beans are also featured widely in buffets at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika, just down by the Beach:

Chef Richard and staff preparing a bean dish with all the trimmings.

Chef Richard and staff preparing a bean dish with all the trimmings.

Sous-chef Theo with his bean dish.

Sous-chef Theo with his bean dish (right).

'Petit'-chef Claud, presenting rice cooked wth amaranth greens and beans.

‘Petit’-chef Claud, presenting rice cooked with amaranth greens and beans.

Posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, Burundi, Food, Food Aid, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Humanitarian Assistance, Imbo Plain, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments